Many of you may know that I’m a newbie to Los Angeles. To the West Coast entirely. Mix that with my adventurous spirit and I’m a force to be reckoned with. Some people explore a new city by visiting museums and historic sites. Me? I start by eating the food.
I recently had an opportunity to tag along on a Melting Pot Food Tours of the famed Los Angeles Farmers Market. I’ll admit, I hadn’t properly done my research so I was expecting to weave my way through stalls of fresh produce. Boy was I wrong!
The tour started with an in-depth talk by our truly fabulous guide Andrew who gave great detail on the market’s 82-year history.
In 1880, A.F. Gilmore bought 256 acres of land in what is now central LA to house two dairy farms. Water was scarce and in order to provide for his cattle, Gilmore began drilling new wells. And just like Jed Clampett, “up from the ground came a bubblin’ crude”. Cows roaming an open pasture soon gave way to oil wells and plentiful land.
Decades later during the height of the Depression, two entrepreneurs looking for a way to help local farmers make money by selling their produce proposed creating a meeting space, what we now call a farmers market. The market became a Hollywood icon with stars such as Shirley Temple, Ava Gardner Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra becoming regular customers.
Fast forward to modern times and today’s Farmers Market is still a coveted destination for its eclectic food scene and ethnic fare. The best way to experience the venue is through its history so sign up for the Melting Pot Food Tour. You can’t truly appreciate every bit without understanding the story behind the proprietor and the cuisine. The tour’s guides are as entertaining as they are educational so it’s definitely on the “Things to Do in LA Top 10” list
Our day at Farmers Market started with a visit to Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts. I typically shy away from doughnuts and other sugar bombs, but Bob’s is recognized as the best doughnut shop in LA by Saveur, USA Today, Zagat, and the LA Weekly. Bob and his staff arrive at 4am every morning to make fresh yeast (yes, real yeast) that he’ll use to make more than 1,000 donuts. That’s all he makes and once they’re sold out, they’re gone! I’d admit to being a fritter freak and the apple fritters were to die for! Crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
I’m also a sucker for French markets and Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market made me feel as though I had been transported to Paris. We sampled the on market’s unique Hungarian caviar cheese – Hungarian spices, cream cheese and yes, fresh caviar on top. I hear it’s a sure-fire winner at dinner parties.
Andrew stopped us along the way to share quips of history and anecdotes about the merchants. He has a great sense of humor and certainly made the tour a memorable event (I even told my non-foodie husband that he should do the tour – it was that fun!).
No epicurean adventure would be complete without a visit to Italy. Patsy D’Amore is credited with bringing the first slice of pizza to Los Angeles in 1939. He soon caught the eye of Frank Sinatra who helped fund Patsy’s first restaurant which became an iconic Hollywood institution for years. Just look for the photo of Sinatra on the wall and you’ll know you’re at Patsy’s.
I picked up some Macadamia butter at Magee’s House of Nuts for some authentic Macadamia butter, rumored to be frequented by President Dwight Eisenhower and even The Beatles.
Other places you won’t want to miss on this culinary world tour include Pampas Grill, a cafeteria-style churrascaría featuring some of the best Argentinean meats, Loteria where we had such an incredible taste of taco that I actually drove back the next day to get a full meal! Andrew says that Singapore’s Banana Leaf is pretty awesome as well.
Our next stop was Littlejohn’s English Toffee House and I’ll admit, I could eat my weight in toffee. We watched it being made right there on site, with workers up to their elbows in melted milk chocolate and pecans as they rolled the sheets of toffee. After dreaming about this toffee from the small bite I had, I also picked up a bigger portion of it on my return trip.
The tour ended at Bennett’s Ice Cream where everyone else was choosing trendier flavors like salted caramel and fudge. Me, being the wine lover I am opted for the Cabernet Sauvignon sorbet. The perfect bite to end this foodie adventure.
As international food markets go, this one is right up there with Peck in Milan and Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid. It’s grittier and less pretentious, yet the authenticity of the proprietors, storefronts and cuisine can’t be beat.